Tag Archives: Tampa

Reverse Culture Shock

4 Aug

I have been living in Japan since 1990. Most of my life now.
In that time I have only visited America three times. With a family of five, such a faraway vacation is too expensive.
Our most recent trip to America was to Florida in early August 2004…exactly ten years ago now.

It’s been so long since I’ve been to America, it feels more like a foreign country to me now. Japan has become home.

It was fun to visit America, but I’m not really used to it anymore, I guess. I experienced “reverse culture shock” when we went there in 2004!

First of all, the flight. We went there in August because my kids were on summer vacation from school. That is a peak travel time so airline jack their prices way up! So, I looked for airline that was one that had a good safety record but offered the lowest fare.
We decided to fly with the American airline “Continental Airlines“.
The flight itself was fine…they got us to America and back safely, on time, and with all of our luggage. But I guess I might be too used to Japanese customer service because the attitude of our cabin attendant was surprisingly bad.
I heard her audibly sigh when she was asked a question by another passenger.
And my kids (who were still elementary school students at that time) wanted more of the complimentary snacks that they gave passengers…so I asked her when she was passing by us if we could get some more – and she snapped “No!” and continued on her way without further explanation!

Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal…and it isn’t, I know. But that would be unheard of behavior in Japan, so I was surprised.

My next culture shock came in the airports in America.
We started our journey to America at Narita Airport in the Tokyo area.
In Japan, people don’t use their cellphones for talking so much. Emailing through the phones is much more common. And when people do talk with their phones, they do so somewhere away from other people and talk quietly.

I never gave that a second thought before. Even to me, that just seems like normal phone manners.

I came to Japan before cellphones were used by anyone, so I had never even seen a cellphone in America before my trip there ten years ago.

Before we boarded our plane in Japan, everyone in the airport who was using a cellphone was doing so quietly by just sending emails. And when we got off the plane at the airport in America, it was totally different!
There everyone was talking on their phones…loudly.

I don’t want to seem like we didn’t enjoy our vacation in Florida in 2004. It was a lot of fun…but it didn’t feel like “coming home” – but like visiting an interesting foreign country.
Probably because most of my life, and my entire adult life in Japan…I really only lived in America as a kid and teenager…so Japan feels like home.
In fact, after eating American food everyday for two weeks, everyone in my family (including me) starting actually dreaming about the food we wanted to eat once we returned to Japan!

I love ネギトロ丼 (“Negi-toro-don”).

On our drive to the hotel from the airport, I noticed a “Taco Bell” fast-food restaurant. It had been years since I’ve eaten at a “Taco Bell”, so I decided to go through their drive-thru window.
We ordered some tacos and five soft drinks…two medium and three small. The “small” size colas at were bigger than a “large” in Japan! And the U.S. “medium” drinks were too big to fit in the car’s cup holders!
If I had known they were that big, I would’ve ordered one medium for the five of us to share.

Similarly, the clothes in American stores were so big! It was difficult to find our sizes.

Also, I was never sure who to tip or how much. Tipping isn’t done in Japan so I’m not used to it.
I tried to tip everyone in America because I didn’t know who was and who wasn’t expecting one. Gas stations, the rental car place, the hotel cleaning lady, waitresses…
And I probably over-tipped them too because I wasn’t sure how much to give them.
It began to get stressful wondering “Am I supposed to leave a tip here?”

Another event that happened which surprised us because it would never happen in Japan:
We went to a small beach side restaurant for dessert. We each had a slice of cake.
The cakes came and looked good…but they were hard to finish. In fact, my kids couldn’t finish theirs. The cakes were so sweet! Way too sweet!
That was a bit shocking…how different the food tastes. But what was the real culture shock was when I went to pay the US$21.60 bill. I gave the cashier $22…and he told me that he doesn’t have enough coins in the register to give me my 40¢ change!
He said “It’s alright, isn’t it? It’s only 40 cents!”
I didn’t know what to say. Sure, it was only small change…but, in Japan, if a store didn’t have ¥40 in coins to make change, they’d give the customer a ¥50 or a ¥100 coin rather they just assuming they can “keep the change”!

Like I said, none of these events “ruined” our vacation. We still look back on them as “only-in-America” situations!

Tokyo sun shower

4 Sep

Summer in Tokyo is very hot and humid.  There is a typhoon season and sometimes a sudden thunderstorm with heavy rain will start seemingly out of nowhere…and then stop just as suddenly with blue skies returning.

Japanese people are sometimes surprised if I tell them that summer in Florida (where I grew up) is very similar.

Summer in Florida is also hot and humid. There is a hurricane season (hurricanes, for all intents and purposes, are basically the same as typhoons) and sometimes sudden short thunderstorms occur there too.

In fact, the area in Florida where I lived, Tampa Bay, is called “the lightning capital of the world”.

When the weather is sunny and then a rainstorm suddenly starts…with the sunny weather returning just as suddenly, Floridians call that a sun shower.

So I also referred to the same phenomenon in Japan as a sun shower, as well.

But a few years ago, the Japanese media gave these storms an original Japanese name.  Here in Japan, these storms are called 「ゲリラ豪雨」 (“Guerrilla rainstorms“) because of the way they violently come out of nowhere.

Well, yesterday, there was a sudden, short, ゲリラ豪雨 (Guerrilla rainstorm)…and someone photographed it from the Tokyo Sky Tree tower.

The 「ゲリラ豪雨」 (guerrilla rainstorm) that hit the Tokyo area yesterday. It looks like a tornado!

Japan will bring bullet train to Florida?

23 Nov

Japan is well-known for it’s excellent public transportation system. Especially in big cities like Tokyo.
Japan’s trains, buses and subways are clean, safe, extremely punctual, convenient and affordable.

Even though the taxis here aren’t really affordable (a taxi ride in Japan is pricey), they’re also clean, safe and convenient.

You may also know that Japan has an excellent 「新幹線」 (“Bullet train” (or “Shinkansen” in Japanese)) system.

"Shinkansen" (Bullet train) passing Mt. Fuji.

Japan’s 「新幹線」 (Bullet train) system is the world’s busiest and fastest bullet-train service.
The speed record was set a few years ago when the 「新幹線」 (Bullet train) reached a speed of over 580 km/hr on a test-run. With passengers though, the trains travel up to about 300 km/hr.

When U.S. President Obama announced that America would begin building and using bullet-trains systems in various parts of America with the first one scheduled to connect Tampa, Florida (my hometown) to Orlando and Miami, Florida many bullet-train companies around the world began bidding for the contract to build Florida’s first high-speed train service.

Map of Florida showing the planned bullet-train routes.

Companies in Canada, Germany and France are competing with Japan for the contract.

But it seems that Japan’s JR Tokai company has a good chance of winning the bid.

If Japan wins the bid then Florida will have a 「新幹線」 (Bullet train) system like Japan’s.

 

One of JR Tokai's 「新幹線」 (Bullet train) trains.

I wonder if America will be able to maintain the punctuality, safety and convenience of Japan’s train systems.

Have you ever ridden a 「新幹線」 (Bullet train) in Japan? Or any of Japan’s trains or subways?
Have you taken public transportation in other countries?
What are your impressions?

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By the way, today is a national holiday in Japan…「勤労感謝の日」 (“Labor Day”). (Click here to read my short “F.A.Q.” about it.)

October weather

10 Oct

Every year in October and April, when the seasons are changing, the temperature fluctuates a lot and it rains often.

Tomorrow (Monday) is a holiday in Japan. It’s 「体育の日」 (“Sports Day“). So it’s currently a three-day weekend here.
Yesterday (Saturday), the weather was very cool (high temperature was 19°C) and rainy in Tokyo. Today it was raining in the morning but has stopped raining and it’s cloudy now and warmer (about 23°C).
Tomorrow is forecast to be warm (high temp: 26°C) and sunny.

Next week’s weather in Tokyo is forecast to be sunny most days but rain again next weekend…and the temperature will go up and down.
This fluctuating temperature in early Spring and Autumn is called 「三寒四温」 (“Three days cold, four days warm”) in Japanese.

 

Tokyo's weather forecast for 2010 Oct 10 - 17. (Click to enlarge)

I was looking at tenki.jp, a Japanese weather website, to get Tokyo’s weather forecast, and I noticed that it’s possible to compare Japan’s weather to any other city in the world using that website.
So I decided to see how Tokyo’s weather compares to Tampa Bay, Florida (where I grew up).
It’s still quite warm in Florida, it seems. Yesterday, for example, was 19°C in Tokyo…but in Tampa, Florida it was 29°C…very warm.

Last week's weather...Tampa, FL (the blue line) vs Tokyo, Japan (the orange line)

How is the weather where you live?

(By the way, did you notice that today’s date is: ’10-10-10?)

新幹線 in Florida?

29 Apr

I grew up in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. I left there two decades ago…but it’s still where I grew up.

So I was interested when I heard a story on the TV news recently that involved both Tampa, Florida and Japan.

The news said that Florida plans to build a 新幹線 (bullet train) line from Tampa to Orlando and continue on to Miami.

When I lived in Florida, there was no public transportation system to speak of…and definitely no train—especially a bullet train!

Many countries, including Japan, are putting bids in to build this new train line for Florida.

The trains in Japan are spotless, safe, and extremely punctual. But I wonder if it’ll be the same situation in America, even if Japan builds the bullet train system for them…because a big factor in Japan’s excellent public transportation system is not only the technology but also Japan’s culture itself.

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Until yesterday, Japan had a fifteen year 時効 (Statute of Limitations) for murder.
That meant that if someone killed another person in Japan and the police couldn’t catch them with that time limit they would be free of any chance of prosecution for that crime from then on.

But a new law was passed yesterday that completely abolished the Statute of Limitations for murder…and it’s retroactive. So there is now no Statute of Limitations for any murder committed on 1995 April 28 or later.

Actually, this bill was rushed through the Japanese Senate in order to be passed yesterday because there is an unsolved murder case that occurred on that exact date of 1995 April 28…so if this bill wasn’t passed into law yesterday, whoever it was that stabbed an elderly couple to death in their home and then burned their house down (apparently in an effort to cover their crime) would be free from any possibility of being punished for that heinous crime.
But now there is no longer a time limit for the police to catch murderers in Japan.

(Thankfully though, the violent crime rate in Japan is extremely low.)

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